The Think Smaller Blog is an eight-part editorial series that strives to change the world by empowering anyone to take small, yet potent actions in their community. Taken collectively, we believe these changes can add up to make an incredible difference. Check back every Monday for the latest update.

Breaking the Ice

Can you do me a favour? Take a moment to close your eyes and picture yourself being transported through the eons to a world 22,000 years past. You’ll arrive at the tail end of the last ice age.

Early humans have yet to develop the capacity for writing or agriculture. Woolly mammoths and saber tooth tigers roam freely. And a gigantic ice sheet, nearly a mile thick, buries more than a third of the northern hemisphere. This glacier stretches from the North Pole, reaching as far south as New York City.

With your body shivering at the mere thought of this frozen landscape, now think to yourself: How much colder must the world have been back then than it is today? Twenty, thirty, forty degrees Celsius?

How about five degrees?

Believe it or not, the difference between the temperate climate that we enjoy today, and an expansive sheet of ice spanning from Pacific coast to Pacific coast — and taller than three Empire State Buildings stacked base to tip — is a shift of less than five degrees Celsius in the average global temperature.  Year over year, decade after decade, generation after generation, the planet gradually warmed by fractions of a degree at a time. Eventually creating the conditions favourable for the abundance of life and comfort of the common era.

Now, with that in mind, close your eyes again and picture this: Think of all the worst things you see in our society — famine, war, civil unrest, domestic abuse, addiction, poverty, and homelessness… Think of the pain, the suffering, and the agony that goes on, both abroad and right here at home. And think about how powerless you feel to do anything about it.

These are broad and seemingly insurmountable issues. They have existed for millennia — perhaps for all of human history. And they don’t appear to be disappearing anytime soon. It often feels like they never will. But maybe that’s because our dreams of a better world are still wrapped up in massive scales of change. Perhaps we’re stuck thinking it takes twenty degrees or more to effect monumental progress.

It seems counterintuitive. But maybe — just maybe — we aren’t thinking small enough! Maybe we should start first by thinking about what this world might look like if it were just five degrees kinder.

Jake Shapka is the Coordinator of Brand & Culture integration at the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre. He holds a degree in Communications Studies from the University of Calgary and is passionate about inspiring communities to come together to create a world where everyone feels a sense of purpose, connection, and belonging. You can find him on Twitter by following @jakeshapka.